When Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) introduced the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus back in late 2014, it triggered what's now called a "super cycle." Essentially, the pace at which users within the iPhone installed base upgraded to Apple's freshest iPhone models accelerated to well beyond traditional levels because of the introduction of large-screen iPhones.
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However, Apple's subsequent product cycles -- the iPhone 6s-series and iPhone 7-series cycles, -- failed to drive the kind of upgrade activity that the iPhone 6-series did.
During Apple's fiscal 2016, the company saw iPhone unit shipments drop 8% year over year, with iPhone revenue dropping an even wider 12%. The implied compression in average year-over-year selling prices was no doubt due to the introduction of the low-cost iPhone SE and its buoying of shipments.
Over the first three quarters of Apple's current fiscal year, iPhone revenue has grown 4% and units grew 2% from the first three quarters of fiscal 2016. This is obviously a welcome improvement, but Apple's iPhone business is still currently below where it was during the iPhone 6 cycle.
This year, Apple's trio of new smartphones -- the iPhone 7s, the 7s Plus, and the premium iPhone with OLED display, commonly referred to as the iPhone 8 or iPhone X -- are expected to supercharge Apple's iPhone growth and, in effect, engender another so-called "super cycle."
Here's why I think, unlike what happened during fiscal 2016, Apple's "super cycle" could span not just this coming iPhone generation but the next one as well.
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A two-part strategy
The iPhone 7s and 7s Plus should be relatively straightforward updates to the current iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, respectively, with only the premium OLED iPhone delivering a big change in form factor as well as the addition of other radical new features, such as, perhaps, 3-D sensing or Face ID. The OLED model is also expected to be sold at a premium to the iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus, while the latter two will presumably be sold at the traditional price points.
What this could all mean for Apple is that it enjoys a sizable super-cycle this year because of the ramp-up of the iPhone 7s, iPhone 7s Plus, and, of course, the OLED iPhone. Then, in the following cycle, Apple would go from having two "mature" designs and one "fresh" one to a three-phone lineup, all with advanced OLED displays and other goodies.
This approach would make more advanced iPhone technology more affordable, which could further catalyze upgrades and drive robust sales growth for another product cycle.
In fact, while this coming product cycle should be a story of both an uplift in the average selling price and a solid amount of unit growth, the following cycle could be characterized by relatively stable average selling prices as well as an acceleration in unit shipments.
The next two iPhone product cycles have the potential to be quite nice for Apple and could ultimately serve to enrich the company and its stockholders.
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